enticing people to keep history

Although I am aware that historical preservation costs money, I found that much of second half of the book was an attempt to give historians a financial argument as to why it could behoove someone. That being said, I find it ridiculous that people not only want, but actually expect a financial gain as a reason not to destroy historical buildings. Even my favorite part of the second half of the book, Revitalizing Downtown, felt littered with facts like “The Main Street Center recently tabulated that the program led to the rehabilitation of 60,000 buildings (instant happy thought for me, over 174,000 jobs, and to $35 for every $1 spent.” (174) Why do we still look at our collective history in dollars and cents rather than with just sense?

Page 201 clearly shows a list of an entire budget of a project, including tax benefits of doing such a rehab. To me, if you don’t want to live in a historic district ( or own a business in one), then by all means do not. If you do, I feel it ridiculous that it takes an entire spreadsheet of cost accounting to help someone determine…. what exactly? Whether or not or history has value?

The other thought that consistently came up for me was that, what about areas that are historic to a certain group of people but are overlooked by others? With the idea of a commission in charge of what is historical and what is not, what about places like Garden City, known for its beautiful gardens…. that were built and maintained by the Chinese who, as second class citizens of their time, have conveniently been written out of that narrative? Those that have power are the only ones that seemingly can tell us what has history and what does not. Only fairly recently has history started to put into the narrative the significance of many race, class, and gender in the building of America. With this in mind I would hate to lose the history of these other disenfranchised groups simply because they were disenfranchised.73-106-5_garden_city_panorama

Garden City was known for its Chinese gardens. Strawberries and onions were just some of the vegetables grown on the land.
Credit Idaho State Historical Society, Photo 73-106-5 (taken from http://boisestatepublicradio.org/post/growing-garden-city-history-chinese-gardens-gambling-and-change#stream/0 on 3/13/2017)

Historic preservation links for March 13 class

For your future reference, in case you’re interested:

Part II is Worth Reading

As I noted in my previous posts regarding Historic Preservation, I do have some concerns with the broadening definitions of what historically important and about what constitutes “taking.” However, I do not intend to rehash my concerns here. I found the second half of Historic Preservation to be full of useful content on the legal and technical aspects of historic preservation. I appreciated the information about conservation and the four types of intervention, (preservation, restoration, reconstruction, and rehabilitation) and found the text to be an illuminating and thorough-going treatment of these subjects. Conservators in the field have done remarkable research and provided guidelines and solutions for each type of intervention. The Secretary of the Interior standards frequently referred to in the text appeared to be pretty thorough and reviewing the standards on the National Park Service website confirmed that fact.

While I have little interest in being a conservator, I was intrigued by

Sanbron Fire Insurance Map, District of Columbia
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, District of Columbia (1888)

all that was contained in the “Research and Documentation of Historic Properties” section of Historic Preservation.  I love the description, “Researching historic properties is both a craft and art. The craft is in piecing together information on a property from disparate sources; the art is in its interpretation.”[1] I believe that researching the history of a building or district sounds fascinating.

In exploring the National Park Service website I decided to look at two obscure Civil War-era battles, the Bear Creek Massacre in Franklin County, Idaho and the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in Virginia.  The first was listed by the Civil War Advisory Commission as a site worthy of protection in 1990. Beyond some limited use of the site for interpretation by Shoshone tribal members and a wayside signs, little has been done beyond at the site.  That is why I found the Update to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields, Far Western Battlefields: States of Colorado, Idaho, and New Mexico of particular interest. The “Update”, published in 2010, provided a lot of information about what has or has not been done relative to the site, as well as what steps need to be taken to further protect the site.

Ball’s Bluff a relatively well-developed park, but is a little less impressive with regard to NPS provided information. The only readily available NPS document was a one page report by the Civil War Sites Advisory Committee. This dearth of information is offset by a wealth of information provided by other sources, in particular NOVA Parks, an inter-jurisdictional organization in Northern Virgina.

[1] Norman Tyler, Ted J. Ligibel and Ilene R. Tyler, Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2009), 202.

More Historic Preservation

It is interesting to me that there are so many steps to establishing a building’s significance before it can be preserved. It is good that the community seems to be very involved in the selection and preservation process, since the building is likely to be something they have to look at every day. It does concern me that so few communities seem invested in which areas of their cities are preserved. I feel like the people might be more invested in preserving the heritage of an area if they felt more connected to its history.

I feel like architectural preservation efforts are important, even if I will never be able to recognize a classic example of the colonial style on sight. I think it is good that more emphasis on preserving ‘recent’ historical places, such those built in the sixties and seventies, as rapid urban growth tends to destroy those places before they’ve hit the magic fifty-years-old mark. I suppose I had not considered that the architectural style of a building would contribute in some way to the history of a community, but I am glad that there are people who take an interest in such things. Old buildings are some of the most intriguing locations on city tours and if historic districts rely on tourism, then preserving as many as possible would be very beneficial to them. It does concern me that so many of the criteria for preservation are highly subjective.

Of equal concern is the possibility that companies might bully city planners into approving poor construction project plans with the threat of litigation. I am fully aware that such corporate goons are out there, but it makes me angry to think about what archaeological material may have been lost through intimidation and a lack of resources that small communities can use to protect themselves. More and more it is apparent that history and community significance consistently loses out to greed and self-interest, and what a pity that is.


One person’s significant place is another person’s headache

How do we decide the significance of a place? I mean, I know how we do it – the book told me. There’s a thermometer. But after we’ve saved 10 significant homes, how do we decide whether or not to save the 11th? What if it’s just as architecturally beautiful? What if it’s just as historically significant to the neighborhood? What if great-grandma’s uncle’s first born son once lived there? TL;DR: I’m having a hard time grasping the line between “worth saving,” and “we’ve saved enough.”

There’s this horrible Facebook group that my dad keeps adding me to (and I keep deleting) that attempts to celebrate the “history” of Boise. Sometimes it’s somewhat interesting (though largely unsourced), but it seems like the majority of posts that I see are made by old fogeys wondering where the old KMart used to be and bemoaning the loss of history every time the city knocks down an office building from the 70s. They’re all that I could think of when I read this book. I know they don’t make the call when it comes to preservation, but they get awfully upset about it, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s what some of these committee meetings might sound like.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m 110% in favor of saving and preserving historic buildings and places, but it has to be done right. When I went to New Orleans a few years ago, I wanted to spend all of my time in the Vieux Carré district, soaking up the history and culture. After a long afternoon of wandering, I became aware of the fact that the French Quarter is a money pit. Yes – it’s beautiful, but it’s only kept beautiful for the tourists, and I’m glad the book touched on this, and places like it. The French façades only hide t-shirt shops, tacky ghost stories, and ridiculously expensive drinks. Venturing outside of the Quarter is where you’ll meet the people who know the city’s real history. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a world in which historic preservation isn’t largely used for capitalist interests, so I guess I’m glad that they’re being saved at all, whatever the ulterior motive may be…

Historic Preservation Part 2

I found the reading in Historic Preservation Part 2 to be enlightening and educational, especially in regards to laws and legal cases that have dealt with historic preservation. The discussion between preserving historical information and architecture focuses on the “historic significance,” a term “used to describe a property’s relative importance . . .” (Tyler, Ligibel, Tyler, 135).  
Much of Part two deals with the legalities surrounding preservation and begins by saying, “The legal framework for historic preservation is largely based on land use law, with the traditional premise that property owners should have the right to do as they wish with their property.” (121) One significant case in 1926, Euclid v. Ambler Realty Company decided in favor of protective zoning and “overrides the interests of individual property owners,” which changed the tone for future preservation decisions and a change in the way of thinking.  Other court cases have decided whether or not land should be preserved for future historic value, such as the decision of Penn Central.  It is considered to be historic preservation’s “most important legal precedent.”  It was decided in 1978 and it prevented a monstrous 55 story addition to the iconic landmark, Grand Central Station in New York city.  This decision by the U.S. Supreme Court made guidelines for how historic sites are preserved and gave legitimacy to cities and governments that preservation is a “governmental goal.” (126)

Historic significance is the term best used throughout part two, as it provides the value of the conservative nature of the remaining book chapters. A structure’s significance is based on two primary factors: historical or cultural importance and architectural value.” (135) Categorizing these factors about a site’s importance can help us evaluate in terms of historic value and, most important, the integrity . Part of the evaluation, according to the National Registry, involves these seven factors: “Location, Design, Setting, Materials, Workmanship, Feeling and Association.” (138) Certainly in evaluating historical significance, there are so many aspects that can contribute to a site and certain aspects can either add or detract from the evaluation.  If a home is original, for example, or if it has undergone remodeling that is not true to its history.  Events like relocation of a home can be a negative because the setting may have been of importance and, the prominence of the family that built the home or lived in it for a significant time can be a factor.  Certainly the architect is an important factor and age, with a “commonly accepted, and government-supported, criterion for historic significance is  . . . at least fifty years old.” (140)  As a historian, one of the most interesting categories is National Historic Landmarks, which are a “special category of designed historic structures and properties with exceptional value or quality.” (150)  These are places that are of importance to all Americans and one of the most famous is Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, and also includes Mount Vernon, Pearl Harbor and Alcatraz Island.  

The establishment of historic districts is very important in preserving the history and character of certain parts of cities and towns.  The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 gave governments the “power to create regulatory historic districts.” (155)  It provided for the protection of properties of historic value but it also serves as a protection for the wrecking ball of redevelopment.  It promotes people preserving wonderful homes and buildings and helps to improve property values for entire areas, oftentimes inner city locations.  For example, I live near the historic district of the North End in Boise and enjoy the architecture of historic homes and businesses.  Buildings downtown such as the fire station on 6th street built in 1902 now houses a nice restaurant after serving the people of Boise. Member of the Idaho Historical Society cleans the bell inside the building weekly. It is because of the dedication of people like them that many of Boise’s historical buildings remain for us to see.  


Once again, I found these sections of Historic Preservation illuminating.  By outlining all the multiple ways of thinking about preservation, I could not help but notice how subjective everything is.  In determining historical or architectural significance, I could imagine how many arguments are fought over different buildings and which ones get preserved or not.  These processes are yet another area in which the bureaucracy creates hoops for people to jump through, discouraging more participation.

I thought it was interesting that the authors brought up the “experience economy” and the Starbucks example.  I see locally in Boise, that very same idea at work downtown and the businesses that occupy those spaces, ironically as a reaction against Starbucks.  The restaurants and coffee shops market themselves as being local and able to provide an atmosphere that deviates from the “chain businesses” to give them a “cool” vibe.  The historic buildings play a prominent role in the restaurant atmospheres, providing an “experience” at the same cost, or more, than the “chain” food establishments.  While that is a great use of the space, I wonder at the accessibility of those businesses.  Yes, I see the historic buildings and unique restaurants as assets to Boise, but I feel as if they only cater to specific people, excluding diverse participation in the downtown scene.  Like we have discussed before, I think it’s important that historic spaces be available to everyone.

I was glad that the authors also discussed the link between tourism and preservation.  By blending the two, heritage interpretation creates a more meaningful visit to tourists that goes beyond “site-seeing”.  This approach seeks to engage tourists foster an understanding of cultural places through the combination of tourism, preservation, living history, “edutainment,” and “experience” industries.  One example provided was how a local actor impersonated Thomas Edison and talked to visitors while on the tour.  While admirable, the book makes this approach seem like it is the best and only way to go about engrossing tourists.  I can’t help but consider how some visitors may not enjoy that experience, and how different people learn in multiple ways.  Once again, I think there cannot be a one size fits all model for varying historic sites.  Lastly, I thought the discussion on cultural and maritime landscapes broadened the scope of the book into areas that I hadn’t considered in my perceived discussion of preservation.

Preservation 2

The chapter on legal basis for preservation made me frustrated, but not surprised, on the amount of red tape and legal precedence the government uses to allow or thwart owners’ rights to preserving historical buildings. The political and legal fighting between parties on historical significance is no different than when they argue laws or legislation. It should be called negotiations instead of litigations. Imminent Domain has been used, not just in cases of historic preservation, but also when it comes to expanding any kind of cities public works, like roads, landfills, and interstates. One thing is for certain the government will always change their minds and make it extremely difficult for an owner of a historic property to maintain it, make changes, or demolish it.

I thoroughly enjoyed chapter seven because this is what interests me about the preservation process. I see the issues with preservation and technology because with so many involved this could slow a process down. I liked how the chapter broke down the definitions of each term and idea one by one to explain it. The amount of different expertise needed to do each particular job is amazing. With the increase in older buildings being preserved I wonder if it would be easier for teams to be designated in areas with large historic districts, specifically in the east coast, where large areas can be designated to specific teams for preservations. The teams would have specific individuals with knowledge of the architecture to lead breaking the teams down by skill levels to maintain multiple structures. Similar to how the military combines multiple specialties or jobs skills to nation build or provide security I think the same idea could apply to preservation in large areas. Obviously, the major problem with this is going to be money and convincing the government to spend it. The idea seems sound and would allow for on the job training with apprentices and students.

The sustainability of the historic sites seems possible depending on the community’s involvement. Getting people to volunteer is easy, in my experience, because most people will want to in the beginning. The problem is not overworking the people and getting others to volunteer. Problems arise when trying to train and sustain the relationships with the government and communities on how to sustain historic projects for the future. Working around schedules and getting a life cycle schedule passed to maintain and sustain the historic building can be an ominous task if multiple agencies are involved and laws keep changing.

Historic Preservation Pt. II

The legality of building preservation and historical significance of a house has never crossed my mind before. If it were up to me, most historical buildings would be saved. Older architecture is so beautiful and intricate. I would save most beautiful historical buildings. But since that can’t be done, the system of determining which buildings to preserve and which ones to not preserve seems like a good system. I am sure as a homeowner or property owner of any of these historical buildings that it is sometimes a nightmare. But it does make sense to have strict regulations in line.

The chapter regarding downtown revitalization got me thinking. I know this might be silly, but I hoped that the author would delve into repercussions of revitalizing the downtown of cities and how that can push low income people from their homes. The author touches on this idea during the Seattle Pike Place Market section and how the residents wanted to maintain its charm and the low-income housing surrounding the area. It is also touched upon in the “Other Preservation Issues” chapter briefly. The entire chapter seemed to only be focused on how these historic or just “old” neighborhoods could be turned into places for business. I feel like this isn’t and shouldn’t be the main point of historic preservation. I believe that there needs to be more of an effort towards stopping gentrification. The small section in the book that talks about it only offers up vague ideas on how to allow for low-income residents to keep their housing. Since this isn’t the point of the book, I will let it slide, but this issue is one that I was thinking about throughout the book. As much as I love older buildings and downtown areas, I am very much against the idea of gentrification. I hope someday we can find a perfect balance between historic preservation and people being able to live peacefully.

Why is titling this blog post so difficult?

Historic preservation part 2… The problems that were so evident with the last reading have gotten worse, it would seem. The most problematic section of this reading for me was the “Historic Preservation and the ‘Experience Economy'”. And I found it problematic because it equated history, and it’s preservation to a Starbucks coffee. I find it absurd that communities should market themselves as being a white chocolate mocha frappuccino because some people think people don’t like regular coffee any more.
Again I am drawn to my experience in Nampa. There had been a push to renovate, rejuvenate, and revitalize the downtown area, complete with metal signage touting the railroad history of the neighborhood. The city fathers seemed to follow the “Main Street Program’s Four-Point Approach”. They even found private funding to renovate the theatre, which would help increase foot traffic and bring more people downtown.
But because they tried to make downtown a fancy coffee, they lost out on all the people who drink Folgers. Time passed, the returns on investments did not meet forecasted expectations, and the next batch of city administrators decided preservation was not worth the time or treasure. Now the city is minus more historic buildings because (as I said last time) it’s much more expensive to bring old buildings up to code than it is to knock them down and build something new.
Which leads to THE problem of historical preservation here in the West. The vast majority of those in authority believe that historic buildings are only of value if that value can be monetized. Thus the problem with capitalism, and society as a whole.
And I should probably stop now, before I go further down that particular rabbit hole.